Dorks Estate: How a game is helping humanity get to Mars

Throughout the stories of humanity our
ancestors have admired the stars and other planets from a great distance
with the help of ASU interplanetary initiative we may be the next generation
that closed that distance. Today we’re talking about Port of Mars a
role-playing game that tasks players with maintaining a colony on Mars. Port
of Mars is being developed at ASU to understand more about how people might
actually act in a space colonization situation. The exact question the game is
poised to answer is how can we best sustain healthy human communities in
space. see it’s one thing to get people safely to Mars, but what then? Creating a functioning society will be the main goal. Port of Mars was created to
hopefully help researchers understand how that can happen. Before meeting with the people who are making the game, I wanted to hear what some of the students who got to play it said My name is Joshua Nitin and I study mechanical engineering at ASU. My initial thoughts well I kind of enjoyed it
because I’m a fan of Dungeons and Dragons and so the game closely follows
the basic ideologies of Dungeons and Dragons, except it’s in space and that’s
something I really like what were some of the situation’s you went through in
the game. There was a scenario where we had to tackle a dust storm because they
are most common on Mars, and so each person has a different role to play and
so each guy had to react in a way that fulfills his experience points — so to
say. and so we had to make the best use of resources so that everyone gets in
somewhat equal amount of experience points while at the same time being
careful not to overuse the resources so we don’t run out of it and then
ultimately die before help arrives. It’s interesting. So what do you think the game did well? so the game, it created an idea of how human civilization would start it’s baby steps on Mars and like it showed us how people are able to
react to situations when they have when they put in a completely different
environment that’s not similar to anywhere else on Earth. Along with other students discussing the game online, Joshua said Port of Mars was actually a
lot of fun and compared it to role-playing games in the style of
Dungeons and Dragons. After talking of Joshua I wanted to
learn more about part of Mars directly so I reached out to Lance Gharavi, a professor here at ASU who works in transdisciplinary environments.
I’m Lance Gharavi, associate professor in the school of Film, Dance and Theater. before we talk about part of Mars can you tell me more about the
transdisciplinary environments that you work in? One of my favorite things about
this kind of work is that everyone’s a wizard to everyone else when you’re
working on a team where everybody’s from a different field the the simplest kinds
of operations that that you do in your in your daily job seem like magic to
to the others and and the same for everybody. The kinds of things that
are old hat to an astrophysicist are just filming with wonder and awe. I feel
like how did you know that? or how did you do that? and they’re like
that’s nothing. that’s really exciting to be in a room full of people with all kinds of different expertise. ASU really promotes a culture of
interdisciplinarity and I find the people I’ve worked with here have really
embraced that and you know we’re all passionately curious. When this all began why did you choose to use a game? The question that we were interested in
pursuing in a broad sense was how can we best sustain healthy human communities
in space and the way I thought about trying to answer that you know we can’t
it’s it’s prohibitively dangerous and expensive to just send a hundred people
to the moon only to figure out, hey will they get along. We want to answer those
questions before we send the hundred people to the Moon or Mars right? We want to equip them with the tools that they need to to survive and to thrive so so
the answer was really to my mind to create some sort of simulation that
we could run and so I thought popular simulations are games
I think of role-playing games or video games are simulations of social contexts
right and so I thought if we could create a game that would somehow place
players in space where they had to somehow get along create figure out how
to interact and how to cooperate we could watch what they’re doing keep
track of all their behaviors and actions and then analyze those behaviors of
actions to figure out okay, what actions tended to produce success and what sorts
of actions tended to produce failure? and what we learn from that data we can use
then to create best practices or guidelines or structures or future human
space missions. And what were the results from that initial pilot study? We’re in the process of writing up the results of the the first round of experiments and
some things we learn groups that communicate effectively tended to do
better than groups that that did not communicate well groups that had clear
leaders tended to perform better than groups that did not have clear leaders
now those two findings are in line with previous research in the area that we’re
examining we discovered some other things about the personality types
worldviews that tended to be successful in those that tend to be less successful.
I think that the things we’ll discover will, it’s my home, the things that we
discover with this research will help maybe create some design principles or
best practices is certain things to guide the people
who create the systems for future space missions. Like if Elon Musk’s ends you
know 100 or 200 people to Mars by 2030 like he’s talking about doing what kind
of advice or or structures will they want to set up for people once they get
there to ensure that the the community thrives, what we’re hoping to discover
some principles thinking that can guide that. Has Port of Mars helped answer the
question of creating healthy human communities in space? The problem that we’re examining is really around issues of navigating, called commons
dilemmas. Commons are any shared resource but it could be
something really small if you’ve ever had roommates where you share a kitchen
or a bathroom that becomes commons for you Some people will contribute to the upkeep and care of the shared resource
and replenishing shared resources like soda or food or toilet paper or whatever
and some people may not contribute to the upkeep and renewal of resources. And
so how do you navigate those particular issues? We’re faced with all
kinds of commons dilemmas on this planet. The sort of broadest one and
the one that’s in the news most often is climate change. How do you
navigate dilemmas that where on the one hand, people want to behave in a certain
way because it’s in their best interests individuals governments corporations but
as a group as a species we want to avoid certain things happening that
harm our species like temperature increasing, right? It is a
sort of classic commons dilemma when we send people to the Moon or Mars what do
some deep space station they’re gonna have to share almost everything their
resources will be extremely limited there’s no resupplying will be extremely
difficult and will take a very very long time and if resources run out on Mars
they can’t just go to someplace else on Mars for instance comments dilemmas
finding ways to effectively navigate those will be finally to the success of
future human space communities and that is specifically what Port of Mars is
designed to investigate I’m really proud of how the team worked together to
create a game that was doing real science but that was also fun. Port of Mars is still in its early stages but there are plans to hold a “Mars Madness”
event on the ASU campus early next year where students will have the opportunity
to play the game the game is also being created in a digital version, and Gharavi
says there are talks to make the analog game available in stores. And while it is
a fun experience it is at the same time contributing to our future in space
whether or not humanity will thrive on other planets like Mars remains a
mystery but projects such as this one takes us one leap closer. For The State Press, I am Balin Overstolz-McNair.

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